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01.10.2008 Feature Article

Eat What And Drink What Not • We Seem To Be Going In Circles


A few publications I have come across lately, particularly on science and research, seem to be taking us on a merry-go-round, sometimes getting you confused in the process.

If you are familiar with those play stuff that one finds in amusement parks, they are fun and relaxing to sit on them even as an adult but you get uncomfortable and dizzy depending on where you sit in the hoop when it begins its merry-go-round.

Research and counter research findings these days seem to be contradicting findings of yesteryear.

Sometimes, one is left in the loop to juxtapose what one should do or not do, eat or not eat, wear or not wear, and the list goes on ad infinitum.

Years ago when we were growing up, for those of us who found food a big problem and did not fancy meat among other foods, we were told that if you ate without meat you would go deaf and so our parents encouraged us to eat meat.

On reflection now, there is some scientific sense in this encouragement. Later at secondary school, we learnt at our “O' Level Biology class that we need protein to build and repair body tissues.

Some of the rich sources of protein, we were told, included foods like meat, eggs, and fish. Years down the line, we are learning of new research that is turning things around.

 

For example, meat or egg lovers are being advised to go slow on their preferences.

A BBC monitor not long ago reported that the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Ravendra Pachauri, himself a top climate scientist, has called on people to consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming.

United Nations figures suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than transport.

 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18 per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Transport, by contrast, accounts for just 13 per cent of human kind's greenhouse gas footprints, according to the IPCC.

Even before the talk on climate change was brought to the fore, we had been told that white meat such as poultry is much healthier than red meat such as beef, lamb or pork.

 

The irony is that, this same Science tells us that millions of pounds of antibiotics are fed to livestock annually to prevent infections from unsanitary conditions.

 

We are further told that due to the steroids that are injected in the wings of chicken, one of the unsafe parts of the chicken are the wings.

 

The caution also adds that skins and fatty tissues are to be removed before cooking to reduce the amount of pollutants and pesticides.

Talking about protein, a foreign news report a couple of weeks back on the unfortunate baby food scare in China really gives cause for concern.

 

The story reported a confirmation by the Chinese Minister of Health, Chen Zhu, that more than 6,200 babies had fallen ill after drinking formula milk made from contaminated powder.

According to the story, 22 brands of powder have been found to contain the toxic industrial chemical, melamine, apparently added to make it appear higher in protein.

 

Four of the babies, as of last week, have so far died while 158 of the sick have been diagnosed with 'acute kidney failure'.

 

Two of the cited brands are exported to Bangladesh, Yemen, Gabon, Burundi and Burma although it is not clear if contaminated batches are involved.

That is a very scary story and we do hope that our gate keepers, the Foods and Drugs Board, the Ghana Standards Board and our Port Health authorities are on the alert about some of such things.

It is very surprising to see scores of different brands of biscuits these days many with packaging inscriptions in foreign languages. One can neither read the nutritional values nor the ingredients.

 

How safe is it to be a consumer of imported products in our country today?

If the meat and poultry research findings have swayed you into eating fish, have you done so based on informed scientific findings?

The authorities tell us that among other benefits, eating fish at least once a week is good because the essential fatty acids can help keep one's skin tissue resilient and healthy.

 

If, however, you are now deciding to switch over to eating fish, just wait a minute.

There is a warning staring in our face over there too. Scientists tell us that mercury released into the air is deposited in oceans and streams where bacteria convert it to a more toxic form for some fishes to feed on.

 

The inference here is very clear.

A publication in a recent edition of the Oprah magazine highlights the latest health drink as coffee. Really?

 

Coffee in the past was blamed for some of the ills like heart diseases, cancer, osteoporosis and sleeplessness.

 

According to a Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology of the Vanderbilt University, science has shown that 'coffee is an extremely healthful drink'.

Coffee is said to be the number one source of antioxidant in the American diet, according to a University of Scranton study, exceeding wine, chocolate, tea, fruits and vegetables.

 

Antioxidants may help prevent diseases such as heart diseases and cancer.

Research involving more than 27,000 women indicates that one to three cups of coffee daily can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

 

A study of more than 90,000 people in Japan in 2005, found that daily coffee drinkers had half the rate of liver cancer when compared with less frequent consumers.

So what about sugar? Which is the best type or substitute for our breakfast porridge? If like me you have relied on brown sugar as your safe haven, be warned.

 

We are being told that nutritionally, the differences between white and brown sugar are trivial. The molasses in brown sugar contains calcium, iron and potassium, but not enough to make it a significant source.

As for drinks, your best bet is the one called water. Did you hear that if you drink up to seven or eight glasses of water a day, you are wholly guaranteed, both for the body and for the skin?

 

 The warning, however, is that depending on the state of your kidneys; too much water can be bad for your health. Eh?

Indeed living in our world today is a huge challenge despite all the knowledge that is available to us to make it a heaven on earth.

 

Talk about global insecurity, global warming, hurricanes and tsunamis, personal safety, food safety, all types of diseases, which way do we turn now?

Perhaps, we can take consolation in experts advice that if you want to feel good, function better and think more clearly, a few simple things is all you need.

 

 Laugh a lot, walk for fitness, think positive, eat an ounce of nuts (about a palm full) daily, and drink water.

Is it that simple? Let us wait for the next research findings to be announced. Until then, perhaps we will follow the advice of the protagonists — eat what we grow and grow what we eat.

By Vicky Wireko

Daily Graphic
Daily Graphic, © 2008

This author has authored 236 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DailyGraphic

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